tv Meet the Press MSNBC April 25, 2011 2:00am-3:00am EDT
on this easter sunday, there is a dark mood in the country about high unemployment, soaring gas prices and washington's constant bickering over how to solve pressing problems. in this climate, our politics is taking unexpected turns as well, with donald trump emerging as a surprisingly popular potential republican candidate for the presidency. we'll discuss it all this morning. first, the budget battle. will it degenerate into a partisan fight? >> nothing is easier than solving a problem on the backs of people who are poor or people who are powerless or don't have lobbyists or don't have clout. >> or is there the basis of real compromise that's still under the radar?
the debt ceiling load and the prospect of higher taxes are topics i will raise with two of the top budget negotiators in the so-called gang of six, charged with coming up with a compromise proposal. the chairman of the senate budget committee, democrat from north dakota, kent conrad, and member of the senate finance committee, republican senator tom coburn of oklahoma. then, our "political roundtable" examines america's slumping confidence and the opening it creates for obama's loudest critic. >> i think that obama will go down as the worst president in the history of the united states. >> so, what to make of donald trump and the rest of the potential 2012 republican field? did the president's declining poll numbers, particularly about the economy, indicate a tough re-election fight ahead? joining us, columnist for "the new york times," david brooks, columnist for "the washington post," eugene robinson, republican strategist alex castellanos and former communications director for president obama, anita dunn.
captions paid for by nbc-universal television good morning and happy easter. we begin this morning with the continued fighting in libya. reports of heavy bombardment by gadhafi forces in the coastal city of misrata overnight. this coming a day after rebels claimed a victory there after government forces literally and initially retreated. the situation's being described this morning as very dangerous. senator john mccain visited the rebel stronghold city of benghazi on friday, and he is with us live this morning from cairo. senator, welcome. describe the fight, the situation on the ground as you experienced it firsthand. >> well, in benghazi, things are quiet and calm, and they have a transitional national council that is basically governing the area under their control. in misrata, it is quite bloody, david. when i was there, a ship had just arrived from misrata filled
with refugees and the wounded, and i went to the hospital there in misrata and i saw a lot of young men who were dead and dying and gravely wounded. this is a pretty bloody situation, and it has the earmarks of being a stalemate. now, we hope that gadhafi will crumble from within, but hope is not a strategy, and it's pretty obvious to me that we need -- even though i was glad to see the predator now in the fight, it's pretty obvious to me that the united states has got to play a greater role in the air power side. our nato allies neither have the assets, nor, frankly, the will. there's only 6 countries of the 28 in nato that are actively engaged in this situation. >> so, if you talk about predators being used, supplies for the rebels. if it comes to it, senator, would you like to see this president okay ground troops going in, if that's what it takes to break the stalemate? >> no, i would not, david. i think it would be totally
counterproductive. i believe that with sufficient and efficient use of air power, we can bring gadhafi to his knees. it's ideal terrain and situation for doing so. i have no doubt, though, that he and his forces are adapting to this situation by hiding in houses and doing various things that prevent the air power from being so effective. but i'll tell you, when you're flying around at 25,000 feet, it's pretty easy to hide from them, but we need to recognize the government as the legitimate voice of the libyan people so they can have access to the funds that we have frozen of gadhafi's. we need to help them with communications. we need to help them with humanitarian assistance. we need to -- in my view, it would be very helpful if we took out gadhafi's television, because when the libyan people see gadhafi on television, it scares them. this guy is, you know, by the
courthouse in benghazi, there are pictures of the 1,200 people that he had massacred in one day in a prison. and so, we need to be more helpful, but troops on the ground is out of the question. >> you have been a forceful advocate of the things that you've been talking about with regard to the mission. there is not a unanimous view, however, in the republican party, and we are in a political season already. and mitt romney, with whom you disagreed about with war policy in the past, came out this week in the "national review" saying the following about the president's strategy -- "it is apparent that our military is engaged in much more than enforcing a no-fly zone. what we are watching in realtime is another example of mission creep and mission muddle." do you worry about this muddled mission and how it ends? >> i worry about a mission that the president says that the policy is the removal of gadhafi but says that it would be a mistake to use force to see that that happened. and what the president's
quandary is that he relies on nato resolutions and security council resolutions and the best he could get is a humanitarian resolution when the fact is that we need to take gadhafi out. this guy is a person who has lost all legitimacy just by the way of assad in syria. >> but you say take gadhafi out. how do you just say that if you're not willing to go all the way with ground troops to do that? can you do that with air power alone? >> i think you can do it with air power and a sufficiently trained and equipped liberation forces. look, these people hate gadhafi. that's why i think there's still hope and a chance he may crumble from within. but the longer we delay, the more likely it is there's a stalemate. and if you're worried about al qaeda entering into this fight, nothing would bring al qaeda in more rapidly and more dangerously than a stalemate. >> can i get you on the record on two other matters, senator? >> sure. >> on iraq, admiral mullen said
it's possible that u.s. troops could stay beyond december if that's what the iraqi government wants. do you think that that will be necessary? do you think that will happen? >> i think it's necessary that we provide them with things like training and air force. they have to be able to defend their own air space. the technical and logistic, particularly intelligence capabilities that we have to offer. i think it's very, very important that we not leave iraq completely. and i have very little confidence that the state department can do the job all by itself. >> how long do you see some substantial troop presence in iraq? >> i think it could go on for a period of time, but the key is that we not inflict any more casualties, that americans who are stationed there operate in an environment of security. i think we could achieve that. as you know, we have troops stationed all over the world. the american people aren't badly, deeply concerned about that. they are concerned when americans continue to suffer
casualties. >> and before you go, senator, a political note. when you were running for president, you were endorsed very strongly by one donald trump, who is now, according to people i've talked to, quite serious about getting in the presidential race. is he somebody that you could back for president? >> as you know, i'm staying out of this. i think that mr. trump is having the time of his life. i congratulate him for getting all the attention that he's getting. >> but you don't think he's a serious candidate? >> well, look, i'll let the people decide that. i'm glad he's willing to enter the arena. i think we have a lot of good candidates, and i am not endorsing any of them. i would be very happy if sarah palin got in. i'd be very happy with many of the governors that we have running now. i think we'll have a good candidate at the end of the day. >> but palin appears to be less inclined to get in now. do you suspect that she'll be there in the end? >> i don't know. i really don't know what she's going to decide. i still am very grateful that she was my running mate, and i'm proud of the work she does.
>> all right. we're going to leave it there. senator mccain in cairo for us this morning. >> thank you, david. >> thank you very much. joining us now, we want to switch topics to two of the top budget negotiators in the budget chair of the budget committee, senator kent conrad of north dakota and member of the finance committee, republican senator tom coburn of oklahoma, both members of the so-called gang of six, the bipartisan group of senators who for the past four months have been working to forge a debt reduction compromise. senators, welcome to both of you and happy easter. senator conrad, let me start with you. there's a lot going on in terms of trying to deal with the budget. you've got the ryan plan, you've got the president's plan, you've got another commission, and this so-called gang of six. bottom line is here, do you have a deal? are you going to be announcing something soon? >> you know, we've agreed not to discuss the status of our negotiations, but if we don't have an agreement soon, we won't be relevant to this discussion. >> so, you're going to be relevant? you intend to be relevant? >> we intend to be relevant, and i would say that we have made enormous progress in this group, and it is the only bipartisan
effort that is under way. and at the end of the day, it has to be bipartisan or nothing is going to happen. >> but senator coburn, realistically here, without the shroud of secrecy, are you going to have a deal? >> well, the hope is, is that we'll have a deal. the country can't afford for us not to have an agreement. >> let me stick with you on the point of contention, particularly with senators like you, republicans, conservatives, and outside groups having to do with taxes. could you support a deal here out of this gang of six on the budget that includes tax increases? >> well, we're not talking about it. i think if you go back and look at the commission's report, what we were talking about is getting significant dynamic effects by taking away tax credits, lowering the tax rate and having an economic increase that will actually increase the revenues to the federal government. we're not talking about raising tax rates at all, so -- >> but here's the thing -- >> if there is a net effect of tax revenue, that would be fine with me. i experienced that during reagan's period in 1986.
>> but here's -- but if people's taxes go up in some way, it would appear to be a violation of the pledge that you signed with a well-known american for tax reform taxpayer protection pledge. this is a group you signed the pledge with. and the second piece of this is that you vow to oppose any net reduction or elimination of deductions and credits unless matched dollar-for-dollar by further reducing tax rates. if taxes end up going up in some capacity, would you not be in violation of that pledge? >> well, i think, which pledge is most important, david, the pledge to uphold your oath to the constitution of the united states or a pledge from a special interest group who claims to speak for all of american conservatives, when in fact, they really don't. the fact is, is we have enormous, urgent problems in front of us that have to be addressed and have to be addressed in a way that will get 60 votes in the senate, a majority vote in the house, and something that the president will sign. and that's our problem with
where we are today. the president doesn't have a plan that will get 60 votes in the house. the house doesn't have a plan that will get 60 votes. and what senator conrad and myself and other colleagues are trying to do is, where's the compromise that will save our country? here's the question. this isn't about politics as normal. it's about making the decisions now that are urgent. when s&p decides that the trend is negative, and in fact, sends a warning shot across our bow, i think there's not anything more significant we can do than come to an agreement. >> senator conrad, let me ask you about taxes. because if i'm going to press conservatives on the idea of any tax increases, the press for democrats is to say, hey, wait a minute, if you really want to tackle the deficit situation, how do you not raise taxes on the middle class, those making less than $250,000? can't just do it on the rich. alan greenspan was on this program last week. he said the bush-era tax cuts should expire for everybody. is that not fair? >> you know, let me just say this, revenue has to be part of this because revenue's a share of our national income, is the
lowest it has been in 60 years. spending is a share of our national income, is the highest it has been in 60 years. so, you've got to work both sides of the equation. but we did not raise tax rates in this proposal. what we did is have tax reform. let me give you an example. in the cayman islands, there's a little building, five-story building called ugly house. it claims to be the home of 18,000 companies. they all say they're doing business in that little building. the only business they're doing is monkey business. they're avoiding paying the taxes that they owe. if you reform the tax code and collect that money, i don't consider that a tax increase. >> fair enough. fair enough. but my question had to do with taxes on the middle class. the president's position is i'm going to tax the millionaires, i'm going to tax the rich, but not anybody making less than $250,000. how is that sustainable if you really want to tackle the deficit? you look at these numbers. don't taxes have to be raised on the middle class as well? >> you know, i really don't believe they do.
i believe the tax reform that the commission called for that produces additional revenue through going after these offshore tax savings -- let me give you another example. right in recent history, the united states has seen the spectacle of companies, u.s. companies buying european sewer systems, not because they're in the sewer business, but because they want to write those investments off on their books for tax purposes. that kind of tax scam should be closed down. i don't consider that a tax increase, but it does raise additional revenue that can be used both to lower rates to make america more competitive and to reduce our deficit, because tom coburn is exactly right, our country is headed for a fiscal cliff, a gross debt 100% of the gross domestic product of the united states, not in the future, but this year. >> all right, but i want to stick to this point. senator coburn, let me ask you, a lot is made of your personal friendship with president obama,
but you also take him to task for not leading on this issue. is part of that failure to lead in your opinion, that he will not be honest with the american people about the need for tax increases if it's going to come to that for those not just the wealthiest americans, but those making less than $250,000, if you really want to deal with putting revenue and spending in balance? >> no. my argument with him is when he says 88% of the budget we're not going to touch, reform or fix, and we're still going to solve our problems is an absolute falsehood. the fact is, you can't have medicare out of the equation, you can't have medicaid out of the equation, and we can't borrow the money, $2.6 trillion that we've stolen from social security and the international financial market without making social security sustainable. >> well, let me get on that point -- >> to lead on this -- let me finish my point, david today lead on this issue and to create a false predicate that says we can solve our problems without addressing our entitlements, it hurts the country. it doesn't help the country. it hurts the country. so, we ought to be honest with
the american people. medicare cannot continue the way it is if we're going to survive. medicaid cannot continue the way it is if we're going to survive. to put those off limits is erroneous, wrong and hurtful. >> here's the difficulty, and you both know it, senator conrad, is that the american people want more government than they're willing to pay for. look at this poll, "washington post"/abc news from this month, about the popularity of taking certain steps that you just outlined, senator coburn -- cut medicare spending. 78% oppose. cut medicaid, 69% oppose. cut military spending, 56% oppose. the only thing that's popular is raising taxes on those making more than $250,000. so, look, you and members of congress, republicans and democrats, who need to go out there and campaign. what makes you think they're going to take the tough steps that the president's not willing to take in terms of really dealing with entitlements? >> because we must. look, we've just had a definitive study done by two of the most distinguished economists in the country who tell us that once you reach a debt that is over, a gross debt
more than 90% of your national income, your future economic prospects are dramatically reduced -- future economic growth, future job creation. that's where we are as a country. this is a defining moment, and we've got to decide as a nation, are we going to do some things that all of us would prefer not to have to do, or do we wait for the roof to cave in? i think the american people are plenty smart. if you ask them the question, do you want to cut social security, of course they don't. but do you want to make social security solvent for the next 75 years? yes, they do. when you ask them the question, do you want to raise taxes? no, they don't. but will they support tax reform to get additional revenue to reduce the deficit and make the nation more competitive? i think then the answer's yes. >> just a couple minutes left. i want to get both of you on this debate over the debt ceiling. senator conrad, you voted against raising the debt ceiling last time it came up. you say you don't regret the vote. but to hear secretary geithner say that's catastrophic, that's playing chicken with america's economy. >> well, what i've done is i
have been very clear for the last ten increases in the debt. i will not support any long-term extension of the debt without a plan or proposal or process in place to deal with the debt. and so, i've voted for short-term extensions, but i won't vote for a long-term extension. i won't do it now unless we have a plan to deal with this debt, because at the end of the day, this represents a fundamental threat to the economic security of the united states. >> well, you're a democrat saying that. so, unless there is direct linkage between spending cuts and raising the debt limit, you won't vote for increasing it here. >> no, those are not my words. my words are very clear and they have been for years. i will not vote for any long-term extension of the debt, more than a year, unless there is a plan or process -- >> and this would be enough? >> i don't know. we don't know what the plan is. i think a lot of people are saying this will be longer than that. look, i think it is critically important that we get a plan in place to get this debt under
control. i will vote for short-term extensions. i think it would be catastrophic to renege on our debt, but we have to have a long-term plan to deal with this. >> senator coburn, if you look at the polling on this, americans, if you ask them, do not support raising the debt limit at this particular time. do you think, are you confident that there will be any linkage between spending cuts and a vote to increase the debt ceiling? >> well, the only way we solve our very real problems is to start getting our spending under control. a debt limit doesn't really mean anything, because we've always extended it. and the treasury secretary has the ability, even if this debt limit is not extended, he has the ability to continue to pay interest on our bonds. the idea that we might say that this is catastrophic is wrong. what is catastrophic is continuing to spend money that we don't have on things we don't absolutely need and continue to
mortgage our future and not fix the very real problems that are in front of us. >> senator coburn, before we go, i want to ask you a political question as i asked senator mccain. you have been critical of newt gingrich because of multiple marriages, saying -- you've said in the past he doesn't have the commitment to marriage to be a good presidential candidate or, indeed, to be president. do you think that donald trump will face similar difficulties, having been married several times with conservatives? >> you know, not to comment on either of them, i think what our country's looking for is courageous, moral leadership at this time of multiple problems it faces. we need somebody who has demonstrated sacrificial leadership, that has demonstrated consistency and an ability to lead based on a life that's modeled on what american ideals are. so, that's not to comment on either of them other than the fact that the way we get out of the problems is people being honest with us about our situation and the problems that are in front of us and what the potential solutions are. >> you have been a friend and a
colleague of senator john ensign, who has resigned. speaking of morals, his extramarital affair and other questions came before the ethics committee and he has decided to resign. you have been a mediator in some of that process. do you regret the role that you've played on any of these sides with regard to senator ensign? >> no. i just regret that the moral mistakes were made and the consequences are severe associated with those, and with that, i wouldn't have any other comment. >> was it appropriate for him to resign? >> like i said, i don't have the -- i don't know the basis under which he resigned and i'm not privy to that, so that's a decision he made. and what he stated was best for his family. >> senator conrad, do you think it's appropriate for the ethics committee to now make public its findings? >> you know, that's for the ethics committee to decide. i used to serve on the ethics committee. i think it would be appropriate for them to make a final report. that's certainly provided for in
the ethics committee rules. >> all right. we're going to leave it there. senators, thank you both very much for being here. coming up, tough choices on taxes, spending and entitlement reform. will washington bridge the partisan divide and find room for compromise? plus, high unemployment and soaring gas prices and americans pessimistic about the future. our "political roundtable" examines what it means for 2012, including a potential donald trump candidacy. joining us, "the new york times" columnist david brooks, columnist for "the washington post," eugene robinson, republican strategist alex castellanos, and former communications director for president obama, anita dunn. [ woman ] nine iron, it's almost tee time. time to face the pollen that used to make me sneeze. but with zyrtec® liquid gels, i get fast, 24-hour allergy relief. so i feel better by the time we tee off. zyrtec® liquid gels work fast, so i can love the air®.
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we are back joined by our roundtable. columnist for "the washington post," eugene robinson, columnist for "the new york times," david brooks, republican strategist alex castellanos and former communications director for president obama, anita dunn. welcome to all of you. we've just had this big conversation about the budget, entitlements, spending. this is the big debate in washington now and it's going to be as we get into the re-election campaign for next year. alex castellanos, is it a smart thing for republicans to be taking on, this fight over medicare? a lot of republicans have gone home to their districts and are fielding tough questions, basically saying you want to do what? you want to change medicare as we know it? here's an ad that's running, a political ad, americans united for change, that takes on congressman ryan's plan about medicare. >> paul ryan looks like a nice young man, but on april 15th, he
voted to end medicare and its guaranteed health care benefits. ryan wants to use that money to give millionaires a $200,000 tax break, ending medicare so millionaires can get another tax break? really? call congressman ryan and ask what were you thinking? >> what are they thinking politically? >> one thing we've learned in washington over these years is just because one side loses doesn't mean the other side wins. i think we're in a situation where everyone loses politically in this debate. certainly, republicans are being hurt. campaign 2012 has started. we've seen the evidence. but you know, democrats also lose, too. look, this is what everybody has to do, step up to the plate and put something on the table about getting a hold of the deficit and the debt. both sides are going to pay a political price. republicans are cold and cruel and irresponsible, but democrats are also irresponsible on the debt on not cutting anything. it's going to hurt both sides. >> and look, anita dunn, we saw from the midterm campaign that the tea party sentiment and the republican party has won the
day. i mean, it is forcing this fight over cutting government spending, and now both sides, the president has embraced that as well. so, can you just make this about what republicans want to do with seniors? >> well, david, i think that if you look at what the midterm elections said, they sent a very clear message to washington, that they wanted both sides to work together for results and for solutions. it was interesting to me on the night of the election that the republican leadership went out and said, no, we're not claiming a mandate. we got the message, people want us to work together. and the next day, they claimed a mandate to come in here and dismantle entitlements and start radically cut spending. >> people wanted a mandate to cut spending, that's what they said. >> well, they actually said the night of the election they understood there was no mandate except to get to work on the nation's problems. the next day they said there was a mandate to cut spending -- >> there is a need for compromise. david brooks, this week a column sets up this discussion well. he says "leading thinkers in both parties say the events of
the past two weeks have locked in place the major part of the 2012 general election contest. the debate will revolve around a big question more often dodged than confronted -- how much government are americans willing pay for? before the conversation is over, the answer could produce uncomfortable moments for president obama and republicans alike, not to mention voters themselves." >> yes, well, that's what i liked about the ryan plan. it confronts you with that question. listen, the average senior citizen pays about $150,000 into medicare, pays in $150,000. they get out of it, the system, about $450,000. that $300,000, a large chunk of it is being paid for by their grandkids. so ryan said, is that moral? is that what we want to leave a legacy? so, what he did was extremely politically fool-hardy, and i don't agree with every part of the plan, but he made people answer the question the conflict of their choices. everyone will have to do that in many different ways, but i thought what he did was a step in the right direction. >> if we're going to be serious, both sides have to face some realities, including democrats.
the budget director for president reagan said look, you've got to get serious. you have to actually raise taxes not just on the wealthy, but on the middle class if you're really serious about balancing the budget. >> yeah, but what do you do first? i mean, you know, let's look at the political reality. people admire courage and dealing with reality, but what they admire more is medicare and social security. and look at those poll numbers. you know, people say raise taxes on the rich, keep your hands off my medicare, keep your hands off social security. now, those may be unrealistic, but that's what people are saying. so, what's the political equation? i think this period has been good for democrats and bad for republicans, frankly. >> but for the country, doesn't the president have to come out with charts and say, here's your reality, people, we're all going to take a hit? and he hasn't done that. he did a bit with his speech. i don't think he's done it enough. just ross perot-style charts, here's the deal. >> let me put something else on the table, alex, which is this
dark mood in the country, the pessimism in the country, the right track-wrong track direction, "the new york times" poll. 70% of americans think the country's off on the wrong track. and then you look at about the views of the economy in general, 44% think it's getting worse, 28% staying the same. there's a lot of pessimism there. >> i think the vision of a country is the job of the president, and that's something that i'm really disappointed in barack obama about. i've said a lot of good things, not i'd say 100%, but a lot of good things about him, but he has, i think, failed in the vision. the candidate of hope and change has become this divisive populist who is pitting rich against poor, republican against democrat, red against blue. remember the speech, there was one america, no red, no blue? what happened to that guy? i think that's a huge mistake because it also robs him of his greatest gift, and that is his ability to inspire, to lead. >> but to be fair, the other side of that, anita, is that in
paul ryan's plan, a lot of people look and say this is an overly ideological document here. >> well, david, i mean, there's no doubt about that. i mean, the first line of it says the president's failed to lead, so the republicans must step up to it. and it's a very, very partisan plan, a very ideological plan. you know, i think that when you look at the mood of the country, there are a couple of things that are really important. the first is that at the end of the day, this is not so much about the deficit, it's about economic growth and our economic future, and that's really the dividing line between the president's plan as he laid it out and i think the ryan plan, which is, the president said there are clear things we need to invest in. we need to invest in education, as any -- >> i understand that. what about the compromise piece? what about the tax question? how do you not raise taxes on the middle class if you're going to say, hey, we've got to be serious about bringing the budget into balance? >> well, david, as you said, where do you start? how about starting with the other side, who basically said we want to cut taxes for the wealthiest people in this country and start with that, having a tax rate that's the lowest since herbert hoover for
wealthy people in this country? >> the president has a job no one else has. he holds the heart of every american in his hand. he's president of everybody. and when the president says, you know, rich people are bad people, they're sitting there on their money, and by the way, their success is not earned, they're just a fortunate few, he's dividing the country, and that's what hurts. you know, now he's going to sit down and negotiate with business, with -- >> go ahead. >> and it's not ideological leadership, it's principle leadership. >> there's another way of looking at this big picture, though. i think people are saying they want an america in which we take care of the elderly, we take care of senior citizens, we give them the retirement that they thought they were paying in with social security, the money they thought that was there, and we take care of their physical health, and we also take care of the health of the poor. i think people are saying they want that kind of america. they don't necessarily want to pay for it, but i think it shouldn't be just about how we cut those programs.
this should also be about how do we pay for the programs that people want? and yes, you're right, that's not just raising taxes on the rich. i think it's a more broadly based tax -- >> but they want a country where the government can balance competing interests. i think the polls -- and they don't see that right now. the poll you mentioned should be extremely alarming to everybody in the political class, because usually when you have an economy coming up, which ours is -- we've had good jobs numbers, unemployment coming down -- usually public opinion goes up. that's the way it worked in the great depression and under reagan. now we have a disconnect where the economy's going up, public opinion's going down. >> right. >> that's in part because of gas prices, but it's in part because of structural problems in the economy, the middle class isn't feeling it, and it's partly because people have given up hope in the political system. >> just to amplify your point, two data points that i think are important -- the home value relationship to the recession. we can't forget here, well, this is, first, the gas price effect, which is as gas prices go up, the president's approval goes down. pretty stark numbers if you go from february 11th to today.
the other piece of it had to do with the home value. homeowners assessed home values since the start of the recession, 47% know that the homes are worth less. their savings are gone, right? i mean, this is that pessimism you talked about. >> and when you look at the way the numbers have moved, it's not on the rich, it's not on the poor, it's people making between $50,000 and $80,000 who are political independents. they have become much more pessimistic. >> alex, if you're writing a republican campaign, you're saying there's a lot of reasons obama's tough to beat. you look at the wrong track number at 77%, you say ah hah, that's the mindset of the independent voter. obama had him and now moved away from them. and gas prices is a huge effect. >> look, i would say obama's still favored to win the election for many reasons. people think he's a decent guy. the republican congress has made him safer. he can't spend without restraint now, so he's like light beer, all the hope and vision without the spending calories. and they think america's gone to a better place in racial
relations. this is a good country, doesn't want to pull the string out of that sweater. they want to keep him, if they can. but obama is vulnerable to the sending a message campaign. people will say how do i maximize the social value of my vote? i can't just ascent to what goes on, he spends too much. another group will say i didn't like the health care thing, i've got to send him a message on that. another group is going to say he bows too much, i didn't like that. he took over the car company. and one day, he'll look up and see all these people on the ridge, and like general custer, that don't wish him ill, but will send him a message and he is very vulnerable to that campaign. >> let me take a break. we'll come back and talk more politics, including the trump effect that seems to be taking over more republican primary voters. more roundtable, coming up. during its first year, the humpback calf and its mother are almost inseparable. she lifts her calf to its first
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politics. i also want to talk about the politics of gas prices. alex, you were saying this is what can be connected to the president in terms of the economic downturn. t. boone pickens, natural gas advocate, of course, and author of "the pickens plan for energy independence," i spoke with him this week as part of our "press pass" midweek conversation, which is available on our blog. and he said there was a promise made about energy independence by this president that has not been a promise kept. this is what he said. >> i remember very well what he said when he was nominated. he said in ten years we will not import any oil from the mideast. we are almost three years deep now from when he made that statement. there's been no plan put forth that i've seen since he's been president to accomplish that, unless he started talking about natural gas. and when you get down to it, we don't have a number of options. >> and david brooks, a year ago after the gulf oil spill, this president said what i will not
accept is inaction in the energy debate, and yet, that's where we are. >> well, he joins a long list of presidents who have failed at this. but i just think the natural gas point is an essential point. wherever you go around the country, western pennsylvania, oklahoma, texas -- i've been a lot of places where we're finding new natural gas deposits here. it seems to be the future, even though it's the fuel of the president. the problem is, we don't have the infrastructure to really exploit it, and i think this is an area where we have to get over our aversion to fossil fuels and our fantasy that we're going to live off solar and wind, which we're not. that's an intellectual leap that the political class has to make. >> anita, how much does this hurt, gas prices? from talking to white house advisers, even more than jobs right now, they know his approval is tied to gas prices. >> gas prices when they go up, hurt any president. we saw this with bush. we've seen it for a long time. i think to david brooks' point, though, washington has a habit of thinking, well, because an energy bill didn't pass in the last congress, therefore, there is no energy problem now because we didn't pass a bill to deal with it. this is when the president says, you know, richard nixon has been
talking about, we don't have a comprehensive energy plan. i think the white house, when the president went out in his state of the union and outlined his clean energy standards and other ways to achieve that independence from imported oil, i think people were like, what's he doing, why is he bringing this up again? he's very committed to this. and frankly, it is part of the economic future of this country that's going to create the jobs, that is going to help bring the middle class forward again, and that's what the argument's about, david. >> right. >> i mean, that is really where the goals are. >> and the problem is a lack of consensus. >> there is. >> let me talk more broadly about politics and some of these, again, a lot of headlines, and it's either one or two on the polls on the republican side. he's also on the cover of "the week" magazine, and it is the donald, donald trump, "shaking it up," it says. jonathan martin in "politico" wroi on thursday sort of the basis for this energy, this wave that trump is catching. "a latter-day p.t. barnum with an insatiable appetite for attention and a knack for getting it. trump has capitalized on two defining and interrelated
features of the political-media landscape in the obama era -- the symbiosis between political provocateurs and traffic-conscious news organizations and the rise of conservative constituency that hungers for voices that will attack president obama in sharp and unapologetic terms." eugene robinson, unless something were to happen, he is full speed ahead. he plans to get in this thing. >> oh, i think that's true. and i think the other republican possible candidates who are treating this like a joke i think are making a mistake. you know, he's showing up number one or two in most of the polls of republicans. you can say this is not a serious candidacy. you can say this is not a serious candidate yet if you're looking for traction right now. and maybe it's temporary, but for traction in that race, trump's got more of it than anybody else. >> you were for mitt romney. here, donald trump is challenging his business acumen and credentials. what is fueling, what is not --
it could be something femoral, but it's not, what is fueling it? >> other than an insatiable appetite for publicity? i think two things. you've had the tea party, you've had the republican sweep of the last congress, now you have donald trump. they're the same thing. there is no pro-trump movement. there is an anti-washington movement. america is so tired of playing on both houses, republicans and democrats. they want to roll a hand grenade under washington's door. that grenade is donald trump. at some point, however, the spotlight has to move from what he's not, which is washington, to what he is, which is a very unstable political figure. you know, his plan to put a flashing "trump" above the white house is not going to go over well. >> i disagree with that. i think he's much deeper. the guy's been on since the '80s and he stands for something. he stands for success, the gospel of success, that you can start out small and make it big in this country -- not that he did, but he stands for that. he's been preaching this for 20 and 30 years. he attracts 60,000 people before the tea party ever happened. so, i take him seriously as a political force because he
stands for the idea that the small guy can get ahead and he has trump university, has thousands of books and lectures -- >> he also has controversial views. just to name a couple, that he would go in in libya and take oil wells away, take control of the oil. he's got a very -- some facile answers for some of the vexing problems oint national arena. again, within the white house, they love to hear him talked about, they love to see him in force, but they get particularly angry when he gets more attention on this birther business, whether the president was born in the united states, which he was. >> which he was, thank you. i think if you see the number of republicans and conservative commentators who attack donald trump on this issue, it shows you how concerned the republican party really is about a trump candidacy. i mean, you have a pretty broad group of people attacking him, and you know, the fact of the matter is that the president was born in the united states. he has a birth certificate. >> right. >> it's been online, if i can say that, since 2008. >> and by the way, i think he's
doing republicans a service, he's -- >> can i just bring up one point to interrupt -- look at this poll in "the new york times." 45%, 45% of republicans think that the president was not born in the united states. and trump has certainly talked about that. he touched that nerve. >> as far as i know, i think i'm the only one, either president or talking about the president, who was not born in the united states. so, it's a diversion from i think the issue that works for republicans, which is economics, gas prices, those kind of things. but you know, trump is going toe to toe with the president of the united states. he's going toe to toe with him on not just the birther thing, but on gas prices and things like that. meanwhile, the republicans -- or the spotlight is not on that. the referendum is on obama because nobody thinks trump is going to be president. this helps the republicans. it hurts obama. obama's numbers are going down. >> anita dunn. >> i think what also happens in situations like this is, as alex knows, when you have a businessman who starts running
for president who hasn't been through the political process before, the spotlight does tend to turn away from novelty and from the facile answers to an actual scrutiny. and as it happens, this isn't used for a certain kind of press, doesn't always react all that well. i think the favor being done to republican candidates right now is the lack of spotlight on them, that as they're out there in this early stage that they can really start developing their kind of spiels that they can really start positioning without having to answer tough questions from the press who are attracted to donald trump. >> well, and trump is certainly answering questions, david brooks. savannah guthrie sat down with him this week and asked about his views on abortion and was specifically asking about the roe v. wade decision and the right to privacy, and the exchange was telling and may be a problem for him among social conservatives. watch. >> is there a right to privacy in the constitution? >> i guess there is. i guess there is. >> so -- >> why, just out of curiosity, why do you ask that question?
>> i'm wondering how that squares with your pro-life views? >> well, it's a pretty strange way of getting to pro-life. it's a very unique way of asking of pro-life. what does that have to do with privacy? how are you equating pro-life with privacy? >> well, you know about the roe v. wade decision. >> yes, yeah, sure. look, i am for pro-life -- i am pro-life. i've said it. i've been there way for a fairly extended period of time right now. >> look, the issue is social conservatives, he's got to begin to attract values voters if he's going to make any headway in republican primaries. does that kind of answer hurt him? >> well, that answers like i can see roe v. wade from my house, it's a sarah palin type area. i haven't really been paying attention to politics because i don't know much about it. he clearly doesn't know much about it, but the question is will that answer hurt him? and the thing i keep coming back to is this poll, this tremendous unhappiness of the american people. i've seen it in country after country, where people who are disgraceful, and in many ways disgraceful, got elected or got close to being elected because
people said anything but what we've got. if we've got soviet plan a over here, soviet plan b over here, we want the guy in the red pants. >> the rest of the field, if you look at the lack of enthusiasm "the new york times" found in its piece -- i'll put it up on the screen -- 56% say they're not excited about anybody in this republican field that creates some room. >> exactly. two quick points. number one, donald trump has the advantage of not being burdened by the need for consistency. he changes his views. he has changed his views. that doesn't seem to hurt him. that doesn't seem to bother him and doesn't seem to bother the people who are latching on now. second, i would disagree a bit with the notion that he helps republicans. i think he makes the other candidates look small. i think he makes them look smaller, that this neophyte comes out and dominates the airwaves and the newspapers, you know, all of a sudden makes kind of mitt romney, mike huckabee, you know, tim pawlenty, who are these guys? and i think it delays the day when voters start figuring out who are these guys. >> those kind of answers can't
hurt donald trump because you can't fall off the floor. he's not going anywhere. but the reason i think republican candidates right now aren't exciting is we haven't started the campaign yet, guys. give them time. one thing i've learned over the years is campaigns don't pick candidates, campaigns make candidates. republicans go through a test, they go through the gauntlet just like a skinny state senator from illinois did, and it makes some of them strong, makes them presidential material. we'll go through that process. but meanwhile, the campaign obama does not want as a referendum on obama. that's what he's got now because there's no real opposition. >> john mccain encouraged sarah palin to get in. how do you gauge her level of interest and effectiveness at this point? >> i think sarah palin has become so relevant to the process now that it's almost as if she had been elected vice president. no one's paying any attention to her. i think she's running but not in the person of sarah palin. it will be michele bachmann that will fill her role. >> all right. we'll take another break here and come back with a new segment
we're back with our final moments with our roundtable, and we want to go to senator mccain, who was on the program earlier talking about libya and making some news this morning as he talked about the u.s. effort and how things stand there. watch. >> it's a pretty bloody situation, and it has the earmarks of being a stalemate. now, we hope that gadhafi will crumble from within, but hope is not a strategy, and it's pretty obvious to me that we need -- even though i was glad to see the predator now in the fight, it's pretty obvious to me that the united states has got to play a greater role in the air power side. >> david brooks, do we have a strategy for stalemate? >> well, we've got a strategy for hope. the crucial words there for mccain were "crumble from within." of my conversations with the foreign policy team of obama is that they're really not hoping the rebels can take over the country, they're hoping there will be defections, and that's why the predators are there, to
make sure if you're a gadhafi lieutenant driving around, you're not sure who's up in the sky ready to hit you. so we're ratcheting up the pressure and i think that's probably the right thing to do. >> one of the big topics trending as we've been monitoring it throughout the program -- we've been on tweet deck. libya's certainly been one of those topics. gas prices something a lot of people have been talking to me about in the course of the program, as well as the debt ceiling. and here is this tweet from zach moeller -- "for those of us looking for jobs, budget fight is secondary in u.s. economy." this is really interesting, gene, because that linkage between the two has not really been made very well by either party so far. >> no, it hasn't been made. and actually, i think both parties make a mistake to the extent that they don't find a way to talk about jobs in a way that people get. and i think that's what the american people have been waiting for for years now, you know. as the economy has tanked, who's going to talk about jobs in a way that connects? i don't think the president has done that particularly well.
i don't think republicans are doing that particularly well. and perhaps the winner of this next election is who does. >> and what to look for this week? je yes, donald trump will be in new hampshire, so we'll be keeping have eye on it. thank you all very much. join us next sunday for an exclusive interview with one of the rising stars of the republican party, senator marco rubio of florida, here for his first "meet the press" appearance. that is next sunday. plus, our midweek "press pass" conversation this week will be with education secretary arne duncan, who will talk about education reform efforts and the kickoff of nbc's "education nation on the road" making its first stop next weekend in the secretary's hometown of chicago. check your website and the "press pass" blog midweek for the full interview with secretary duncan. the full interview with secretary duncan. let's go, cats, on to the -- captions by vitac -- www.vitac.com